From Creative Schools by Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica, published April 21, 2015, by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright by Ken Robinson, 2015.

Creative Teaching

Let me say a few words about creativity. I’ve written a lot about this theme in other publications. Rather than test your patience here with repetition of those ideas, let me refer you to them if you have a special interest. In Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative, I look in some detail at the nature of creativity and how it relates to the idea of intelligence in the arts, the sciences, and other areas of human achievement. In 1997, I was asked by the U.K. government to convene a national commission to advise on how creativity can be developed throughout the school system from ages five through eighteen. That group brought together scientists, artists, educators, and business leaders in a common mission to explain the nature and critical importance of creativity in education. Our report, All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education, set our detailed proposals for how to make this happen in practice and was addressed to people working at all levels of education, from schools to government.

It’s sometimes said that creativity cannot be defined. I think it can. Here’s my definition, based on the work of the All Our Futures group: Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value.

There are two other concepts to keep in mind: imagination and innovation. Imagination is the root of creativity. It is the ability to bring to mind things that aren’t present to our senses.

Creativity is putting your imagination to work. It is applied imagination. Innovation is putting new ideas into practice. There are various myths about creativity. One is that only special people are creative, another is that creativity is only about the arts, a third is that creativity cannot be taught, and a fourth is that it’s all to do with uninhibited “self-expression.”

None of these is true. Creativity draws from many powers that we all have by virtue of being human. Creativity is possible in all areas of human life, in science, the arts, mathematics, technology, cuisine, teaching, politics, business, you name it. And like many human capacities, our creative powers can be cultivated and refined. Doing that involves an increasing mastery of skills, knowledge, and ideas.

Creativity is about fresh thinking. It doesn’t have to be new to the whole of humanity— though that’s always a bonus— but certainly to the person whose work it is. Creativity also involves making critical judgments about whether what you’re working on is any good, be it a theorem, a design, or a poem. Creative work often passes through typical phases. Sometimes what you end up with is not what you had in mind when you started. It’s a dynamic process that often involves making new connections, crossing disciplines, and using metaphors and analogies. Being creative is not just about having off-the-wall ideas and letting your imagination run free. It may involve all of that, but it also involves refining, testing, and focusing what you’re doing. It’s about original thinking on the part of the individual, and it’s also about judging critically whether the work in process is taking the right shape and is worthwhile, at least for the person producing it.

Ken Robinson Creative schools cover

Creativity is not the opposite of discipline and control. On the contrary, creativity in any field may involve deep factual knowledge and high levels of practical skill. Cultivating creativity is one of the most interesting challenges for any teacher. It involves understanding the real dynamics of creative work.

Creativity is not a linear process, in which you have to learn all the necessary skills before you get started. It is true that creative work in any field involves a growing mastery of skills and concepts. It is not true that they have to be mastered before the creative work can begin. Focusing on skills in isolation can kill interest in any discipline. Many people have been put off by mathematics for life by endless rote tasks that did nothing to inspire them with the beauty of numbers. Many have spent years grudgingly practicing scales for music examinations only to abandon the instrument altogether once they’ve made the grade. The real driver of creativity is an appetite for discovery and a passion for the work itself. When students are motivated to learn, they naturally acquire the skills they need to get the work done. Their mastery of them grows as their creative ambitions expand. You’ll find evidence of this process in great teaching in every discipline from football to chemistry.

  • Sham

    There’s so many quotable quotes in this piece I don’t even know where to start. Brilliant insight.

  • Sir Ken Robinson is no doubt a clever and inspiring person, but every time he dissects creativity like in “Out of our minds: learning to be creative” I cannot help having the impression that he is cutting a sweet, melting fruit with an axe. Some things are better left undefined, I guess.

    • I like the image of chopping up melting fruit with an axe. Point is, Robinson is guilty of overkill and logorrhea. I’m one of the most creative people you’d ever want to meet; and I don’t know what he’s talking about most of the time. At least, be precise, give examples, put it in concrete terms, describe things that the teacher might do in the classroom, so we could see creativity in the teacher, or creativity in the students, or improved results. Perversely enough, while Ken Robinson is blathering on about creativity, Common Core seems to me to be stamping it out.Take one example: close reading. Take another example: instructional texts. What is even the least bit creative about reading the same boring little paragraph over and over?

      @educatt

      • Berttalk

        I like what your saying about using concreted examples. I also am new to Sir Ken Robinson. So I wonder if it is that he does not go into detail. Or if it is just the fact that this article is a short summary of the concepts he wants to share. Perhaps the All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education report he speaks of has those examples as it says it gives details there.
        It seems also the thoughts of those in these comments I am seeing so far include good points as well. So far I am happy to say I do not see any ignorant rants that are off topic of the article. I do fear I have probably not scrolled down far enough but it is encouraging so far.

  • Curiosita Teaching agrees wholeheartedly with everything Sir Ken says! We even go a step further to say that teaching is the tenth intelligence.It must be dissected into instructional skill sets so teachers can infuse it into all teaching and learning! See http://www.curiositateaching.com to find out more.

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  • Busting myths about what creativity means is important. Every time we talk about how kids need free time to explore, imagine, and create, someone pops in with the notion that this means children will become couch potatoes, watching TV and playing video games all day.

    We also need to face the fact that today’s kids need to develop skills in preparation for careers that probably don’t even exist yet. Someone should probably notify our public education system that the Industrial Revolution is OVER.

  • tony riley

    Hmm, I wonder what happened to the national commission he chaired and the report “All our futures: Creativity, Culture and Education” in 1997. I was working as a teacher at the time in London, UK in a school that was classed as a ‘Beacon school’ a school that other practitioners came to see best practice. I have never forgotten to this day, after submitting my termly plans, getting a note back from the principal “no bright ideas”. We were expected to teach to the SATs tests and not to deviate. I think it’s all very well talking about creative teachers but personally I think it’s the administrators that need to get more creative.

  • Learning is mainly about having fun finding things out. Teaching English as a foreign language (as I do) should be as enjoyable as the teacher can make it. Crucially this means that the teacher engages with his students and makes sure his materials are up-to-date, varied and interesting for the students. This is quite a challenge because let’s face it the competition for time from fun activities on the internet is strong. In fact these days I think many teachers are just tired of the effort or never made it because they use the same old stuff year after year. Another challenge is trying to get admin staff to recognize the value ofwhat is going on in the classroom and give the support teachers need to do their jobs properly.

  • Hannah

    Dr. Robinson’s points about the nature of creativity struck me with their connections to the philosophies of John Dewey. In Experience and Education, Dewey explores the purpose of education and concludes that instilling passion, creativity, and curiosity are the ideal qualities to instill in a student, as it will spur them to continue lifelong intellectual exploration. Dr. Robinson echoes these ideas in his own writing on creativity: “The real driver of creativity is an appetite for discovery and a passion for the work itself. When students are motivated to learn, they naturally acquire the skills they need to get the work done. Their mastery of them grows as their creative ambitions expand.” Creativity, as Dr. Robinson explains it, seems an essential part of any classroom, so that students will truly enjoy and drive forward their own education, rather than simply following directions.

  • Preston

    Creativity is a topic that I have explore quite a bit in recent months. After reading this post, I would have to say that I wholeheartedly agree. Many people simply see creativity as painting or writing. However, everything we do that is new to us, is creativity. If we use our imaginations to do or make something unique to us, then how is that not creativity? Creativity is thinking outside the box; outside the realm of what we have experienced.

    We do creative acts every day without even realizing it. Even reading a book can be considered creative because no one paints the exact same picture in their head when doing so.

  • Deb Chickadel

    Your discussion of creativity in education makes me so proud of where I teach, University Child Development School in Seattle, WA. Creativity is possible for all kids – we believe that! Creativity must be worked on, refined, and tested – we also believe that! Not to mention that creativity
    involves factual knowledge and practical skill – we exercise this as well. Our mathematical curriculum takes place within a program we call Math Vitamin. It’s a daily dose of math that combines building with manipulatives, drawing solutions with pictures, charts or diagrams and recording concrete ideas with abstract mathematical language in the form of equations. From our youngest students (3 years old) to our oldest (5th grade) mathematical creativity is cultivated through experimentation of ideas, engagement with multi-step real world dilemmas, and coaching to build arithmetical skills. It’s really motivating to teach kids when they are actively engaged in creative pursuits, mathematical and otherwise!

    http://www.ucds.org/

    http://www.ucds.org/spark/index.html

  • Huda Ahmed Zaky

    Is there a difference between art and creativity ?

  • Educational leader

    He’s absolutely right! We are missing some of our brightest children and more would achieve higher levels if creative and higher order thinking became the main focus for our children. When we focus on prescribed answers we hold our children back.

  • Courtney Hernandez

    Fostering creativity is very important to the prosperity of our society. However, make sure that in fostering creativity, you are also actively teaching measurable skills. Don’t get caught in making creativity your priority. 21st century skills take precedence. One could be the a very creative person, but without those 21st century skills–knowing one’s strengths and areas for improvement and making improvements oneself, well creativity and innovation are useless. Creativity cannot make a person successful, prepared for or even a change agent in today’s society. I knew a gentleman once who was the most creative person I have ever met. However it took him years to find and keep a stable job because he did not maintain employable skills. I have taught thousands of students over the years and I have seen very creative individuals. I even view myself as a visionary leader. I must say that though creativity may make learning more relevant and engaging for most, I cannot stress enough that creativity should be the byproduct of teaching measurable skills. How can we be lifelong learners or leaders in today’s world if we place creativity above measurable skills? Creativity isn’t the most sought-after job qualification and it never will be. I respectfully disagree on this one. I find you enlightening and your thoughts and works intriguing but creativity is not everything in teaching #sirkenrobinson

  • Sergey Yatsenko

    Creativity is about fresh thinking. – */S.Y Creative Reflection determine your Capacity for Rethinking with New Mindset.

  • Florine

    Philosophical. There is need For teachers to feel comfortable discussing their ideas with colleagues and admin. When the support is not there, teacher suffer from isolation which is not good.Very often its discussiong ideas and pooling approaches concerning challenges that sparks plausible action some of which may turn out very creative and allow some children to ‘turn the corner’. the class is always mixed. For some children, unconditional love holds them in place to bring them to the turning of the corner. Let us work collaboratively and lovingly an give them hope all the time

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